Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rams for sale, apparently

Here we go again...

Sources: Rams up for sale
By Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports
May 20, 2008

Michael Silver
Yahoo! Sports

Though it hasn't been publicized in the wake of longtime owner Georgia Frontiere's death earlier this year, the St. Louis Rams are on the market, according to several NFL sources.

The possible sale of the franchise could have major ramifications, with a potential return of the team to Southern California hanging over any transaction. Adding intrigue to the situation: One of the prospective buyers who has had preliminary discussions with an intermediary about buying the Rams is Eddie DeBartolo, who owned the rival San Francisco 49ers from 1977 to '98.

"I know that they are definitely in play," DeBartolo told Yahoo! Sports last week. "Georgia's kids (son Chip Rosenbloom and daughter Lucia Rodriguez) have decided to sell the team. I've talked to some people who are brokering things, and they've told me about the price and what the deal might entail."

Rams president John Shaw, who has been the de facto leader of the franchise since Frontiere moved the Rams from Anaheim to St. Louis in 1995, declined to comment on the team's potential sale.

While DeBartolo said he has only a "slight" interest in purchasing the Rams, who sources say are being shopped in the $850 million to $900 million range, he conceded that part of the deal's allure would be the possibility of filling the void in the L.A. market that has existed since the Rams and Raiders left town before the '95 season.

"Their lease (at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis) is up in 2012, and they would be a natural for that to happen," DeBartolo said of the Rams' return to L.A. under new ownership. "It would be something to look at, and it's interesting to see the numbers and everything. But it wouldn't be my first choice of a franchise if I chose to get back in."

DeBartolo, who lives in Tampa, would prefer to purchase the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was part of a group that included Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan which approached Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer about buying the team seven years ago, but their interest was rebuffed.

Two years ago, in a story I wrote for Sports Illustrated, DeBartolo said he was intrigued by the prospect of purchasing the Raiders and relocating them to L.A. At the time two prominent NFL owners, including the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones, said they believed DeBartolo would be approved should he attempt to return to the league – something that was in question after he became embroiled in a Louisiana gaming scandal a decade ago and ultimately pled guilty to a felony (not reporting an extortion attempt by the state's former governor, Edwin Edwards).

"I love the guy, and a lot of people in that room (at an NFL owners meeting) like him," one AFC owner said earlier this month. "I think he'd be approved."

Given the decline of the 49ers' fortunes since the popular and wildly successful owner's departure – and DeBartolo's acrimonious relationship with brother-in-law John York, who currently runs the franchise – the thought of him owning a reprised L.A. Rams ranks with the previously floated Raiders scenario as a 49ers fan's worst nightmare. But DeBartolo, who has worked hard to repair his once-bitter relationship with sister Denise DeBartolo York, insists he's not motivated by any sort of revenge fantasy.

"Oh, (expletive), I'm past that," DeBartolo insisted. "I would only do it for the right reasons – business reasons. I don't know, the Rams, they were always my arch enemy. (St. Louis is) a good city. And, you know, we took care of the Rams pretty good when we owned the 49ers."

DeBartolo, 61, also says he is not as high on the Los Angeles market as he was two years ago.

"First of all, who's proven in L.A. that a damn team even works?" DeBartolo asked. "It didn't work for Al Davis, and he won a Super Bowl there. I think L.A. has yet to prove it wants to support a pro football team. And unless somebody does an awfully damn good survey and market-research study indicating otherwise, I'll be skeptical."

One high-ranking league source says the Jacksonville Jaguars are another team that might be sold and relocated to L.A. and that owner Wayne Weaver has solicited potential buyers in recent months. But DeBartolo discounted the possibility of purchasing the Jags, saying, "I think (he'll sell) every year, but it doesn't happen. I get the feeling that Wayne really wants a Super Bowl, and every year he keeps thinking, 'It's gonna be the year,' and he decides to keep them."

As for the Rams, an NFL owner familiar with the situation says at least two groups not involving DeBartolo have had discussions with those brokering the sale about a possible purchase. The owner said it appears unlikely that Stan Kroenke, a Rams minority owner, will try to buy out Frontiere's heirs and assume control of the franchise. To gain NFL approval, Kroenke would have to divest himself of his ownership interests in the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche because failing to do so would violate the NFL's cross-ownership policy (which does not allow someone with controlling ownership in an NFL franchise to own major pro sports teams who play in a different NFL city).

"It'll be interesting to see what happens," DeBartolo said.

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